As Hong Kong keep finding top coaches in Wales, can they grab a few future stars while they’re at it?
With World Rugby considering increasing the qualification period from three years to five, it’s clear there is still a need for some talent coming in from outside
A five-minute winter, a vibrant social scene and a rugby programme as professional as just about any in the world.
That’s what the Hong Kong Rugby Union can use to sell playing rugby in Hong Kong to those players in Wales that aren’t quite good enough to make it professionally in their own country.
Of course, don’t tell them about the humidity that’ll sap the enthusiasm out of even the most upbeat and the six-team Hong Kong Premiership that can get more than a touch repetitive.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? While Hong Kong is sourcing so many of their coaches from Wales, they may as well grab a handful of burly forwards that’ll give coach Leigh Jones the go forward he so craves.
Paul John’s appointment last week as coach of Hong Kong’s sevens side retained the status quo, as he replaced another Welshman in Gareth Baber.
John joins 15s coach Jones, sevens assistant Jevon Groves and the union’s general manager of rugby performance Dai Rees as Welshmen holding prominent positions in Hong Kong.
All of the above have been heavily involved in the game in Wales – surely they can pull a few strings, ring in a favour or two and ship a few stars in the making this way?
While it may not be that simple to import talent (it obviously isn’t), it looks as though it is about to get a whole lot harder.
The World Rugby council is due to meet in May and will vote on extending the three-year qualification period to five.
The residency rule has been a hot topic in recent months, with the issue coming to a head during last year’s autumn internationals when the Australia against France clash featured five Fijian wingers.
The idea of extending the qualification period is that it will stop the talent drain from places like Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, but for the rule to work properly one thinks there also needs to be financial incentives for players to stay in their home country.
While England, France, Ireland and Australia may experience a downturn in foreign talent coming in, Hong Kong should be able continue on in a similar vein to how they have been operating.
The recent push to increase the retention of local talent will obviously work in the HKRU’s favour, while Hong Kong is hardly the target of the proposal and the things World Rugby is trying to eradicate aren’t really happening here.
Yes, Hong Kong has their fair share of players born elsewhere and quite a few project players waiting in the wings in the elite rugby programme, but they certainly don’t have any Fijian superstars on ice.
What should work in their favour is that the sort of players likely to come and play in Hong Kong are not of the quality of those heading off to England’s Aviva Premiership and the French Top 14.
So while the Pacific Islanders heading to the UK and France to play are often turning down the opportunity to represent their home country, those the HKRU hope to lure with the prospect of a full-time rugby contract are likely not.
For the tier one nations, they should be able to go about their business without too much hassle regardless of any rule change due to their rich player pools.
But Hong Kong still needs some players coming in from outside if they are to keep moving forward over a long period of time.
The injection into the premiership of six players from the development programme of Super Rugby’s Chiefs in November shows the HKRU is aware of this.
Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber to replace Ben Ryan as coach of Fiji in the most sought-after job in rugby sevens
While five years is a long time to be slogging it out in the premiership and the programme, the ever-increasing lure of what the HKRU can offer may just be enough to keep players coming in regardless.
Whether or not they’re destructive forwards from Wales in the Sam Warburton mould well, maybe not.